JOHOR BARU - The state is no longer regarded as a mere gateway or "bypass" for tourists as it, too, has its own attractions including theme parks and beaches.
Johor Tourism, Domestic Trade and Consumerism Committee chairman Datuk Tee Siew Kiong said tourist arrivals to the state touched more than 3.95 million last year with the opening of international theme parks such as Legoland, Puteri Harbour Indoor Theme Park and other attractions.
The state has 13 entry points - 10 via sea by ferry services, two land crossings and an international airport.
"The top three foreign tourists are from Singapore, Indonesia and China. Three-day and four-day tour packages are popular in the state.
"I expect the tourism sector to continue to boom as we are planning more theme parks like the Angry Birds (Activity Park) here and Marine Water Park in Desaru. We will also have some water parks in the future," he said in an interview.
Asked whether there were too many theme parks in Johor, Tee said that the theme parks would offer choices for people to try out different things in the state.
"We want people to keep coming to Johor and have fun at these different parks. We also have the Johor Premium Outlet which has been drawing a lot of visitors," he said.
Next up, the state government would be marketing the islands off Mersing and Kota Tinggi.
Tee said some good beaches and islands such as the Desaru beach had not been widely promoted.
"I hope to implement a 10-year tourism masterplan by the end of the year to take us to the next level and attract more visitors," he said.
Tee said that the State Tourism Department hoped to get more funding for its projects as the present RM5mil (S$1.9mil) annual budget was insufficient, compared to the RM25mil that the Sabah Tourism Board spent annually.
"We are now preparing a working paper. I hope to present it to Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin to help us with more funding," he said, adding that promoting tourism was not just about Johor Baru or Iskandar Malaysia but the entire state.
The Johor government had already started putting up billboards in certain parts of the state and improving its website in its latest drive to boost tourism, Tee said.
He added that efforts were also being made to ensure Senai International Airport was better utilised to bring in more foreign tourists via chartered flights especially from China and Hong Kong.
Tee welcomes feedback on how to further improve the state's tourism industry via his Facebook page (www.facebook.com/DatukTee).